Perhaps the most frequently chosen greeting on our Christmas cards is ‘peace on earth’. Regardless of the religious perspective of sender or recipient, we believe that this is a universally desirable message. However, what do we really mean when we send this? For true peace is about much more than the absence of conflict or some warm fuzzy feeling of general well-being.
What does holiness, and being saintly, look like to you?
Where have you seen and experienced holiness, in the lives of other human beings you might call saintly?
On this feast of All Saints it is right for us to ponder for a moment, and to reflect, perhaps with others, on what we have seen and heard… what, I wonder, do we see, and who and what do we call holy? How does this fit with the patterns and pointers we find in our Scriptures and Tradition?
It is hard to find a word of comfort in today’s readings! Or is it? We shall see.
These are words that come out of suffering – exile, imprisonment, exclusion, slavery. They are words spoken to and by those who know the harsh brutalities of life; its injustices and its seemingly random experiences of horror and pain, and yet choose a path of faith...
Shortly before we were ordained in 1986, Jo and I were privileged to attend the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Its title – ‘In Search of a Larger Christ” – and the impact of some of the speakers has stayed with me for a lifetime of ministry. The speakers were global – African, Latin-American, and for me most notable the great Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama. In impeccable English, Kosuke Koyama explained that it was impossible to understand the character and work of Christ until you had attempted to translate that into a language other than your birth language. His point was that our ideas about Christ are shaped by the culture and context in which we first encounter Christ. Until we stretch ourselves to translate those ideas into a different culture, our idea of Christ will always be too small. Let me tell you, our idea of Christ is way too small – and that was very clear to me in preparing this sermon today for Cosmos Sunday.
Years ago in the east end of London, I met a remarkable little old lady. She was what some call a ‘bag lady’: a homeless woman who carries her possessions with her, perhaps in just a pair of plastic bags. Her story was typical of many homeless people, although very unique, like that of every homeless person. In this lady’s case, she would tell a very brief biographical tale on a kind of continuous loop. This began with the words ‘I was a Barnados girl’, which, when repeated would start her off again on her abbreviated life-story. Was she then a sad person lost in a tiny, poor and vulnerable world, cut off from the rest of us? No, not exactly. For, in some ways, she was more in touch with existence than most, if not all of us. For this seemingly poor and aged waif had an amazing quality: namely the ability to see the plants and the animals alive around her, even in the middle of such a busy and environmentally threatening city as London then was. If you walked along with her for just a minute or two, she would point out, and open your eyes and ears to, the animal and plant life you almost always missed: the grass and the sometimes beautiful flowers which pushed through the concrete and the cracks; the birds and the insects and the urban wildlife, which, sometimes incomprehensibly, managed to thrive in the otherwise all-too-human jungle of the city. Almost everyone else was too busy, or too self-obsessed, to ‘consider’ these ‘lilies of the field’ and ‘birds of the air’. It took a similarly overlooked human being to notice and to celebrate these astonishing signs of God’s resistance. And, as she drew you into such contemplation and celebration, you thereby discovered the presence of mystery and grace.
Some of you know that this week Jo and I have been lucky enough to have our three grandchildren to stay, aged six weeks, eleven weeks and two. It has been, to say the least, a lively household. I mentioned to one of my daughters the theme for tonight, and she jokingly said, ‘That’s excellent – I’ll bring the children along then shall I?!’ You can all relax, because she was joking. But it set me to thinking, what do rest and stillness really mean for us, for they have to mean more than just ‘me’ time, away from the busyness of our ‘real’ life...
One of the great things about theology from the margins is how it brings the Bible alive in liberating ways. Therefore, as the young gay Sydney Anglican Joel Hollier puts it, for many queer folk like he and I, ‘we’re not queer despite the Bible. We’re queer because of the Bible.’ As we read the Bible ‘with queer eyes’, more and more sexually and gender diverse people are renewing the very elements which gave the Bible power in the first place: seeing and exploring the extraordinary diversity and dynamic of goodness in creation and human bodies; the central call to justice and infinite compassion for all; the redeeming power of love in the face of suffering and death; and the resurrection promise of new life and flourishing found in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the world. That is one reason why, personally, I’m so over the old arguments about sexuality and gender, not least the so-called ‘clobber texts’. Honestly, why on earth would we waste time on others’ hang-ups, when we’ve such good news to explore and share? In this, today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9.36ff) is a striking example. For in Tabitha/Dorcas, we find a startling model of discipleship from the margins: truly, an evocative, entrepreneurial, exemplar…
If you have ever been to St Luke’s church in Toowoomba, you will know it has wonderful stained glass windows. These include, above the high altar, a replica of the famous medieval ‘Blue Virgin’ window from Chartres cathedral. Another outstanding feature, at the west end, above the baptistery, is a beautiful modern Australian stained glass window; which, almost like an Aboriginal dot painting, plots and celebrates so many aspects of Creation. There are several other windows too which command attention, including one with St Peter and girls from The Glennie School; a rendering of the meeting of Mary Magdalene with Jesus at the Resurrection; and a moving portrait (in the Warriors Chapel) of a dying soldier reaching out and touching the crucified Christ. All speak powerfully of Christian faith, and are, as it were, the Gospel in glass.. Over the years I ministered there however, the window I was surprisingly increasingly drawn to was one of those which are easily passed over: namely a stained glass window representing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. As time went on, I would indeed particularly point this out to those who came for baptisms. For the message of that window goes to the heart of the good news – the Gospel – we all need to hear today: the good news which lies behind Jesus’ responses to the great human temptations in our Gospel reading today. To flourish beyond such temptations, we, like Jesus at his baptism, need to hear, for ourselves, the words of God ‘You are my Beloved, in you I am well pleased’…
I cannot really think of a better verse with which to stand on the threshold of that amazing annual journey we call Lent than Psalm 50 verse 23: “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice, honour me.” . Tomorrow we step over the threshold and the journey will begin. But today, we stand on the threshold. We’re about to clear our fridges, make pancakes and make space for something new. I wonder how you’re feeling?...
The Transfiguration - as Joseph Pagano has described it “three holy heavyweights hold a summit meeting on the ways God will fulfil God’s promises through the death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus”. It is not heralded with the pomp and ceremony of Trump meeting Kim Jong Un. But the outcomes are life changing for all of us.
Peter, James and John nearly sleep through it all – a foreshadowing of course of their inability to stay awake in the garden of Gethsemane. Whether it is the glory of God or the agony, the joy or the pain, we mere humans are inclined to choose sleep over wakefulness, because being awake asks so much. But never perhaps in the church’s history has it been so imperative that we keep awake to what God is doing and to refuse to shut god up in boxes and booths of our own making...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,